A sore foot, lack of court time and a dogged local opponent riding the crowd had the fiery Jerzy Janowicz frowning more intensely than usual on Monday as the 20th seed fought from the brink for a five-set survival against Australian Jordan Thompson.
The Polish 23-year-old, who reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon last year, looked a shadow of that player early on as he struggled to stay with an inspired Thompson, the 19-year-old winner of last month’s Australian Open wildcard play-off.
Trailing two sets to love, Janowicz looked troubled by a foot injury, which derailed the end of his 2013 season and ruled him out of Poland’s team for the Davis Cup tie against Australia last September and the recent Hopman Cup in Perth.
Despite the 1-6 4-6 6-4 6-2 6-1 struggle, Janowicz was impressed with the play his hustling opponent was able to conjure early on.
“On the beginning of first set I was completely shocked,” he said.
“He served huge bombs … I didn’t play for a long time so I didn’t get the right rhythm.
“(But) great future for him.
“I was losing 2-0 in sets and always trying to leave my heart on court. (It was) far from my best tennis ... fighting to the end and got the win.”
With the shadow of a late afternoon start sweeping across Hisense Arena, Thompson came out firing; a quick hustle to a Janowicz drop shot and fast hands at the net forcing the error from the Pole and a fist pump from the Aussie as he broke for 3-1.
Six of Thompson’s mates, each wearing different coloured caps emblazoned with “Thomo’s troops” stood as one when the teenager took four points on the trot to break the Janowicz serve a second time for 5-1.
He would take the first set with an easy forehand put-away after 31 minutes, frustrating Janowicz with his counterpunching and scant unforced error count.
Janowicz had played just one match coming into the year’s first major – a dismal loss to Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov where he picked up just four games – and was well short on matchplay. It showed.
From four-all in the second set, a speedy fetch from Thompson brought his home crowd to life once more, a stretch backhand slice on the run passing Janowicz to bring up break point. He would go on to close out the set after 47 minutes.
Thomo’s troops were on their feet once again.
With Janowicz having received treatment on his troublesome foot and with games locked at four-all in the third set, Thompson stood just two games from an improbable upset.
The realisation of his biggest moment suddenly caught hold, and Janowicz could sense it.
A double fault from Thompson kicked off a tentative game to hand the Pole his first break of serve for the match. It was the only momentum swing he would need.
He held for 6-4, and the disappointment of dropping a close third set at the final post lingered well into the fourth for Thompson.
Janowicz would go on to take 14 of the last 17 games of the match, booking his second round berth when the Australia’s backhand passing shot fired wide.
A simple wink of acknowledgement to Thompson at net was enough to let him know he’d given him a fair headache – and probably a further foot ache – on day one.
Queried on how the foot was holding up, given his time away from the game, Janowicz played down the injury.
“Getting better,” he laughed.
Spaniard Pablo Andujar is next for the Pole.
As for Thomo’s troops, they will turn their support to their charge’s doubles campaign when he teams with Ben Mitchell.